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Snapchat and TikTok are Both Reportedly Working on New ‘Deepfake’ Type Features



Will 2020 be the year that deepfakes go mainstream?

It’s only the first week of the year, and we’ve seen two new advances on this front, with Snapchat acquiring computer vision start-up AI Factory for $166 million, and images which show that TikTok is working on a deepfake-style addition within its app, enabling users to create videos with their own face overlaid onto pre-recorded footage.

First off, on Snapchat – Snap has reportedly purchased AI Factory, which is the company it worked with in developing its recently launched Cameo feature, which enables users to overlay their face over a selection of pre-made scenes.

Snapchat Cameo

The acquisition would suggest that Snapchat will be looking to advance further along this path, improving its capacity to overlay your image onto video content.

TikTok, meanwhile, as per TechCrunch, is working on a more direct deepfake-style feature, which asks users to take a multi-angle, biometric scan of their face, then enables them to add their image into a selection of videos.

TikTok deepfake tool

The tool looks similar to video editing app ZAO, which enables users to upload their image to a range of movie scenes.

Both of these developments carry some level of concern – over the past few years we’ve seen significant advances in video technology, and in enabling users to overlay other people’s faces over existing video content.

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Take, for example, the Bill Hader/Tom Cruise morphing video:

Or this video depicting Donald Trump as every youngster from the show ‘Toddlers in Tiaras’.

They still don’t look one hundred percent, there are still some elements where the edges blur or glitch slightly. But it’s clear that the technology is improving fast, and while these examples are just for fun, for entertainment online, it’s not hard to imagine the same technology being used for more nefarious purpose, like showing a politician saying something he didn’t, or depicting a business leader or celebrity in a compromising position.

And what’s worse, even if such a video were proven to be fake in retrospect, once that initial damage is done, it could be too late. The potential for harm via such process is significant. 

That’s why FacebookGoogle and Twitter independently are all conducting pre-emptive research into how to detect and highlight deepfakes to avoid misinterpretation. Which makes it a little odd that TikTok and Snapchat are working to facilitate variations of the same into their native tools.

For Snapchat’s part, its Cameo feature is more cartoonish, more based in animation than reality, so it’s hard to see it being used for such purpose. TikTok’s variation is more concerning – and worse, the biometric data uploaded within TikTok (or more specifically the Chinese version of the app ‘Douyin’) for such purpose could be accessed by the Chinese Government for use in identification purposes.

China’s advanced surveillance measures have already been criticized by human rights groups, with Chinese authorities reportedly using digital face scans to track and control the activities of Uighur Muslims in the country. China’s citizen surveillance network comprises of over 170 million CCTV cameras – the equivalent of one for every 12 people in the country – which are all, reportedly, being equipped with advanced facial recognition capacity. 

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Uploading your face scan data to Douyin seems like a surefire path to the Chinese Government accessing that data, and utilizing such for tracking purposes.

When contacted by TechCrunch on the new feature, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance denied that this deepfake-style option would ever be coming to TikTok.

As per ByteDance:

“This is definitely not a function in TikTok, nor do we have any intention of introducing it. I think what you may be looking at is something slated for Douyin – your email includes screenshots that would be from Douyin, and a privacy policy that mentions Douyin.”   

So just for Chinese users then, not for TikTok. TechCrunch notes that the documentation for the new feature was definitely available within TikTok, which would suggest that, at some stage at least, it was being planned for a broader roll-out. But it seems, right now, that only Chinese users will be getting the tool.

Which, as noted above, probably doesn’t make it any better. Definitely, there are interesting, entertaining applications for deepfake-style tools out there, and you can imagine they’d prove very popular in either app. But there are also significant risks in making such so readily available. 

But then again, similar tools are already available in other apps – so should TikTok and Snapchat miss out on that engagement when people can already use the same elsewhere? What responsibility should each platform have for facilitating potential misuse in this respect?

There are no easy answers, and the fact remains that deepfakes, as we’ve been warned by all the major tech players, are going to become a problem.

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Now we need to rely on those same platforms to provide us with advanced detection tools to avoid potential impacts.

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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers



Meta's Developing and 'Ethical Framework' for the Use of Virtual Influencers

With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.

The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.

As explained by Meta:

From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.

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Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.

The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.

Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.

Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.

Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.

It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.

But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.

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That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.

Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?

It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.

But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.

You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps



Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps

Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.

The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.

It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.

Meta security guide

There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.

It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.

Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.

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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump



Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner

Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.

He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.

On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.

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Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.

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